A first-ever ‘call’ on the #YampaRiver as the climate veers warmer & weirder — The Mountain Town News

Floating the tiger, Yampa River, 2014. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

In late August, as reservoirs levels declined across the American Southwest, Erin Light issued something common in most river basins of Colorado but which had never been done on the Yampa River. She issued a “call.”

When a call is issued, those with newer or younger water rights must cease their diversions from the river and its tributaries until the older or more senior rights are satisfied. This system is called prior appropriation. Eighteen states in the West use aspects of prior appropriation to sort out who gets how much water and when.

Light, as the division engineer for Colorado Division of Water Resources, administers the labyrinth of water rights in the Yampa River Valley. Water goes to ranches, a power plant, and other purposes, each occupying a specific place in the pecking order as determined by volumes, locations and, above all, date of adjudication. That’s the way it works when a river is under administration. Some Colorado rivers have been under administration since the late 1800s.

Until this summer, the Yampa was different. Those with legally adjudicated water rights took what they thought was theirs. Calls had been placed on tributaries, but not the river itself.

Then in late August, Light announced that those with water rights on the rivers’ main stem awarded since 1951 would have to cease diversions until those older, or seniors, had been satisfied. By mid-September, as irrigators slowed their demands and cooler temperatures eased losses from evaporation and transpiration, Light edged the call back to those rights junior to 1960. Last week, she suspended the call altogether.

Droughts hit the Yampa and many other river basins in Colorado hard this year. But this drought may best be viewed as part of an extended 21st century drought caused more by temperature increases than precipitation declines. It’s part of a clear trend of a warming and more erratic climate.

Ted Kowalski says the water call on the Yampa should be understood within the context of these hotter, drier times in the American Southwest. A former Colorado water official who is now senior program officer for the Walton Family Foundation’s Colorado River Initiative, Kowalski calls the Yampa River the first domino to fall.

Lower streamflows in all the rivers of the Colorado River Basin that produce declining reservoir levels represent the additional dominoes.

This is starkly demonstrated, says Kowalski, by the fact that reservoir storage in the Colorado River Basin has reached its lowest level since the late 1960s. That’s when the newly created Glen Canyon Dam was starting to create Lake Powell.

“All of this underscores the importance of developing and adopting and agreeing to drought contingency plans so that we can effectively manage if and when there is less water in the system,” says Kowalski. The work begins, he says, with conservation.

Conserving water in the 20th century

Far into the 20th century, conservation had a different connotation in the West. Managing water in the Colorado River Basin meant building dams and creating reservoirs, all with the intent of ensuring none of the water was “wasted” by flowing into the ocean.

Hoover Dam plugs the Colorado River on the Nevada-Arizona border. Photo December 2012/Allen Best

Nearly all this major hydraulic engineering was done on the tab of the federal government. Downstream, first Powell and then Mead, the second largest and largest reservoirs in the nation, respectively, provide most of the storage. If separated by 300 miles and the Grand Canyon National Park, the two reservoirs fundamentally operate in tandem, as a Colorado River Research Group report in August noted. They are “essentially one giant reservoir (bisected by a glorious ditch),” the report said in a nod to the Grand Canyon.

Reservoir levels rise after big snow years, but in the 21st century the more common trend has been decline.

Evidence emerging in recent years suggests the Colorado River’s decline can best be explained by rising temperatures instead of reduced precipitation. In a 2017 paper, Brad Udall, a senior water and climate research scientist at Colorado State University, and Jonathan Overpeck, the dean of the School for Environment and Sustainability, attributed two-thirds of water declines to temperature rather than precipitation. Not only is more water evaporating, they said, but plants have been transpiring more water.

“This is the kind of drought we will have to deal with in the future,” Overpeck said at a water conference in Santa Fe during April.

Doug Monger testifies to the warmer weather. A native of the Yampa Valley, he remembers 45-below temperatures, once in the 1980s for two days straight. Down the valley in Maybell, the temperature in that same cold spell hit 61 below. (It had also hit that same low in 1979.)

“I always prayed for climate change and global warming,” he jokes.

Now, he’s getting that warming. “We never had 90 degrees, and now it’s nothing to have 90-plus days for five or six days in a row.”

That heat has been taking a toll on the snow. About three-quarters of the precipitation in the Colorado River Basin originates as snow. Colorado itself provides 70 percent of the water in the river.

In the Yampa Basin, most of the snow collects in an elevation band of between 8,000 to 10,000 feet. The river originates on the flanks of the Flattops Wilderness Area as the Bear River, gurgles playfully along at the foot of the Gore Range and then, drawing more water from the usually snow-laden Park Range, hooks westward at Steamboat Springs for a 100-mile journey to Dinosaur National Monument.

Beyond Dinosaur, the Yampa’s water eventually flows into the Utah desert and Lake Powell.

The Park Range has a reputation as the snowiest place in Colorado. A gauge at 10,285-foot Buffalo Pass, located northeast of Steamboat Springs, reported 80 inches of water contained in the much deeper snowpack by early May on a recent, snow year.

When spring arrives in years such as that, the Yampa gushes through Steamboat Springs well into summer. Flows needed for commercial tubing during summer represent one measure of winter’s legacy. Tubers are not allowed to use the river until flows drop below 700 cubic feet per second. That commonly isn’t possible until after the Fourth of July.

This year, snowpack was better than in Southwest Colorado. Still, it came weeks early and was altogether modest in its surge. Tubing season in Steamboat began June 11. Commercial tubing season ended a month later, when it is usually starting. City and state wildlife officials asked all tubers and others river users to stay out. The river was dropping to 85 cfs, considered a critical threshold, and warming as it did, hitting 75 degrees, reported the Steamboat Pilot at the time.

“If the river’s getting above 75 degrees Fahrenheit, the aquatic life is severely stressed, and this is the time of year when they’re feeding, and they’re getting ready for winter,” said Kelly Romero-Heaney, the city water resources manager for Steamboat Springs.

No relief came with summer, hot and dry. Clouds produced just a few drops.

Water infrastructure in 21st century

Light, the water engineer on the Yampa since 2006, tells a complicated story of why the first call was made this year and not during prior years. Water rights always get complicated. The immediate repercussion will be that investments will necessarily be made in the devices that assure flows. In the Yampa River it was a point of pride that there was no call, unlike places like the South Platte Basin. But almost everybody agrees it was inevitable.

The Yampa River had almost no flows at Deerlodge Park, at the entrance to Dinosaur National Park, when this photo was taken in mid-August. Photo/Erin Light via The Mountain Town News

That inevitably stems in large part to trends in hydrology. In 20th century hydrologic records, three drought years stand out: 1935, 1955, and 1977. Now, in this still young century, there have been three more: 2002, 2012 and 2018.

“When you look at temperatures that were 5 to 10 degrees above average every day, that has to raise eyebrows about what the climate is saying,” she says.

Changes in the Yampa River Basin have not been well documented, but anecdotally at least comport with statewide trends reported in a 2015 report to the Colorado Water Conservation Board. That report, “Climate Change in Colorado,” says statewide average temperatures had increased 2 degrees F during the previous 30 years, with daily minimum temperatures warming more than maximum temperatures. Timing of snowmelt and peak runoff had shifted earlier in spring by one to four weeks. Snowpack as measured by April readings had been mainly below-average since 2000.

Anecdotal evidence of this abounds around Steamboat. Local ranchers long measured a winter’s severity by how deep it accumulated on their barbed wire fences. The 20th century produced many three-wire winters, enough snow to hit the top strand. Three-wire winters seldom come anymore. Last winter snow failed to reach the bottom wire. In some places, the was no snow at all on the ground, says Ken Brenner, who grew up on a ranch south of Steamboat Springs and is now president of the Upper Yampa River Water Conservancy District Board of Directors.

Light says the Snotel automated snowpack measuring sites fail to tell the full story. The stations maintained by the federal government’s Natural Resources Conservation Service record snow and water content at 8,000 to 10,000 feet. Some years, they report robust snow that cannot be seen in snow depths on the valley floor. This leaves locals wondering how this snowpack could be anywhere near normal. The rising levels for snowpack argue for a different monitoring system, says Light, one that captures dynamics of the low-elevation snowpack.

Water infrastructure for 21st century climate

Climate change models predict sharply increased temperatures in coming decades, Models also predict greater variability of precipitation, more extremes of both wet and dry. That could provide an argument for more reservoirs. The Yampa River has just 2 percent of Colorado’s reservoir capacity, but the river provides a much larger percentage of the state’s overall flows. The Gunnison River, with about the same runoff on average, has three giant federal dams, part of the same Congressional authorization in 1956 that created Lake Powell.

The Yampa, White, and Green Basin Roundtable, a decision-making body created by the Colorado Legislature, agree that instead of giant reservoirs, the basin could benefit from smaller reservoirs, discretely located, such as on tributaries, to serve specific needs, reports Light, the state’s liaison to the roundtable.

Monger does see the need for storage on the Yampa River. It could help Colorado manage its water so as to ensure it can meet its commitments to other states in the Colorado River Basin. “Let’s keep it in my backyard rather than sending it down to Lake Powell and have it be subject to the Bureau of Reclamation and the Department of Interior,” says Monger, a Routt County commissioner as well as a delegate to the Colorado River Water Conservation District. Higher elevation storage, he says, will reduce evaporative losses from Lake Powell, about six and a half feet a year off the surface.

About 90 percent of the Yampa’s total annual flows go downstream out of Colorado, ultimately to Lake Powell. That reservoir provides Colorado and other upper-basin states in the Colorado River Basin the ability to meet requirements for delivery of 8.3 million acre-feet annually to Arizona, California, and Nevada at Lake Mead.

That obligation of 7.5 million acre-feet plus the upper basin’s share for Mexico was derived by negotiators who met at a resort near Santa Fe in 1922. Disregarding contrary evidence, they assumed at least 16.5 million acre-feet average annual flows in the river and probably more. That rarely has been the case. In the hotter, drier 21st century, flows have been just 12.4 million acre-feet, say Eric Kuhn, former general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District.

At a recent conference called “Risky Business on the Colorado River,” Kuhn warned against overdrawing Lake Powell, Lake Mead, and other reservoirs.

“When you build reservoirs, you have to have some water. You have to have a little bit of money in the bank. We can’t bankrupt the system. We have to find ways to cut back before we bankrupt the system.”

In Vail on Wednesday, Kuhn took his vision of difficulty for the Colorado River a step further. As long as greenhouse gas emissions go untamed, he said, “there is no bottom” to how hot and how dry the Colorado River Basin could become.

It’s not that the past hasn’t also been drier. Kuhn looks to the past to warn against even more difficult times on the Yampa River and in the Colorado River Basin altogether. The evidence comes from examinations of batches of trees at eight different sites in the Colorado River Basin above Lee Ferry, located just above the Grand Canyon and below Lake Powell.

Dendrochronologists can estimate precipitation by the growth of tree rings. Using that technique, they have charted wet and dry periods since 1434.

Tree-ring research indicates there have been much more severe 19-year droughts in the Colorado River Basin than the current one—and without the impact of human-induced higher temperatures. Graphic via The Mountain Town News

“A number of folks claim that the current 19-year period of 2000-2018 is the driest 19 year period on the Colorado River. That’s nonsense,” says Kuhn, pointing to the graph. In the past there have been droughts both longer and deeper. (Above, see estimated river flows at Lee Ferry, at the top end of the Grand Canyon, from 1434 to 2018. For underlying data, see http://treeflow.org).

Those droughts occurred without the rising temperatures of today. “If these past 19-year droughts were to happen with today’s temperatures,” he adds, “things could be much worse.”

This article was published in the Oct. 4 issue of Mountain Town News, a weekly e-magazine. To subscribe, see options in the red boxes in the top-right corner of the http://mountaintownnews.net webpage.

@ColoradoStateU, et al., researchers score a $4.9 million grant from @USDA in order to create an economic model of how water rights should be allocated in the long term

Prior appropriation example via Oregon.gov

Here’s the release from The Rocky Mountain Collegian (Julia Trowbridge):

With the “Arid West” experiencing climate change and a growing population, it’s time to look at water rights. Colorado State University professors are joining up with researchers across universities and disciplines in Colorado, Nevada and Arizona to do just that.

In partnership with the University of Nevada Reno, Arizona State University, Northern Arizona University and the Desert Research Institute, CSU researchers received a $4.9 million grant from the United States Department of Agriculture in order to create an economic model of how water rights should be allocated in the long term.

This topic has come up due to changes in population growth and climate change, especially in sustaining and increasing agricultural productivity, according to the research proposal.

The research centers around the concept of water rights. Water rights refer to a business’s right to irrigate water. Dale Manning, an agricultural and resource economics professor at CSU, said the longer the business has had the water right, the more secure the business’s water supply claim is. This is important because people with more secure rights get priority access to water resources.

“What happens is, if you’re a senior water right and can’t get the water you’ve historically used, you can tell all the people who are more junior to you, who started diverting water after you, to stop diverting,” Manning said.

The research project focuses on the water basins that the researchers are around: the South Platte river basin, the Verde River basin and the Walker river basin. Although the economic models are being designed around these basins, the research team wants these models to be tailored to any area that relies on surface water, Manning said.

Agriculture diverts the most water in the west, and it diverts anywhere from 70 to 90 percent of the water supply each year, said Christopher Goemans, an agricultural and resource economics professor at CSU. With the expansion of population, agricultural, municipal and industrial areas are forced to compete for the water resources available.

“Any institution that we come up with is tricky because you want to have reliability built into the system so that if I’m a city or a group of cities … I know what my rights are to certain amounts of water,” Goemans said. “But at the same time, we also want fluidity, no pun intended, in the system because as conditions change, whether on the demand or the supply, we want the system to be adaptable to those conditions.”

The demand for water changes in relation to population changes in an area. Manning said through potential options like conservation and reservoirs, the research team is looking into how in the future the amount of water needed can be best maintained.

“Having those different options is actually good, we aren’t limited to one thing to adapt,” Goemans said. “It’s not only building infrastructure, it’s not only telling people to use less, but it’s a combination of all that.”

The side of demand not only involves economic thought, but also social sciences and hydrology engineers. This is where the importance of interdisciplinary work comes in, Manning said.

“You can’t really do this without doing interdisciplinary work,” Manning said. “We don’t model hydrology, but somebody on this project will, and that’ll help us create the supply side of our economic model.”

The research group aims to make a long-lasting impact on how water resources are allocated in the future. With the increased uncertainty of the supply of water, they want to create a reliable yet fluid system for the balance between agricultural, municipal and industrial water needs.

“It’s not just academics and it’s not just one state,” Goemans said. “There’s this huge outreach component. We’re working with local water authorities and each of the states to try to make sure (the research) is as useful for them as possible.”

Collegian reporter Julia Trowbridge can be reached at news@collegian.com or on twitter @chapin_jules.

Mandatory curtailment of water rights in #Colorado raised as possibility — @AspenJournalism @CWCB_DNR #ColoradoRiver #COriver

Water experts say that if the ongoing drought persists, Lake Powell could be empty within three years, and call could be placed on the upper basin to curtail water rights. To avoid the chaos such an unprecedented call might bring, state officials are discussing how a more orderly, but still mandatory curtailment of water uses, might need to be implemented. A wall bleached, and stained, in Lake Powell. Photo credit Brent Gardner-Smith @AspenJournalism.

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

A state-imposed mandatory curtailment of water in the Colorado River Basin within Colorado was discussed as a looming possibility during a meeting of the Colorado Water Conservation Board on September 19 in Steamboat Springs.

Representatives from the Western Slope told the statewide water-planning board that while they favor creating a new legally protected pool of water in Lake Powell and other upstream federal reservoirs to help prevent a compact call on the river, they have significant concerns about the pool being filled outside of a program that is “voluntary, temporary and compensated.”

However, Front Range water users told the board that a voluntary program may not get the job done and that a mandatory curtailment program, based on either the prior appropriation doctrine or some method yet to be articulated, may be necessary to keep Lake Powell and Glen Canyon Dam functioning so Colorado, Utah and Wyoming can deliver enough water to California, Arizona and Nevada to meet the terms of the 1922 Colorado River Compact.

“With the repeat of historic hydrology beginning in the year 2000, Lake Powell will be dry, and when I say dry I mean empty, within about three years,” Jim Lochhead, CEO and manager of Denver Water told the CWCB board.

Lochhead said that while a voluntary demand management program might help bolster water levels in Lake Powell, “it doesn’t necessarily solve the problem.”

“So we may need — I know we don’t want to implement — but we may need other mechanisms to accelerate the creation of water into Lake Powell in the event of an emergency,” Lochhead said. “This is not something that Denver Water wants, or is asking for. What we are asking for is that the contingency plans be put into place. We need to have those plans in place before the system collapses.”

On Wednesday, Brent Newman, the chief of CWCB’s Interstate, Federal, & Water Information Section emphasized that neither they, nor the state attorney general’s office, is at this point “assessing, pursuing or recommending to the CWCB board any type of involuntary or ‘anticipatory’ curtailment scenario.”

And yet, such scenarios are on a lot of people’s minds.

(Please see related memo, slides and audio from the meeting. The audio is via YouTube, as provided by CWCB. The file opens well into the discussion, so click back to the beginning of the file, which opens just after the agenda item began, with brief introductory comments from CWCB Director Becky Mitchell. It’s well worth listening to. Also please see related story from Sept.18.).

The looming possibility of mandatory curtailment of water use has raised concerns among Western Slope water managers, who feel that such cuts could harm Western Slope agricultural, such as this hay filed in the Yampa River basin. However, as water levels continue to drop to record lows in Lake Powell, mandatory curltailments are being discussed as a real possibility, especially by Front Range water managers. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

At hand

Lochhead said Denver Water wants to see a voluntary, temporary and compensated program created as a “first priority,” but also said “I also don’t think that by not talking about mandatory curtailment we can pretend the problem will go away. We need to be thinking about it, and we need to be thinking about it proactively.”

However, Western Slope water interests as represented by the Colorado River Water Conservation District and the Southwestern Water Conservation District are concerned that if a new storage pool is created in Lake Powell, and a mandatory curtailment program is used to fill it, it could have dire consequences for agriculture on the Western Slope.

NPR panel discussion of The Future of Water at CSU May 24, 2016. L to R: Patty Limerick, Roger Frugua, Melissa Mays, Paolo Bacigalupi, Kathleen Curry, and host Michel Martin.

“This is our livelihood,” Kathleen Curry, a rancher in Gunnison who serves on the Gunnison River Basin Roundtable, told the CWCB. “This water is what we depend on. If we move in the direction of mandatory curtailment, and it isn’t equitable, you are going to have significant impacts to the water users in the state of Colorado, especially on the Western Slope.”

The two regional Western Slope water conservation districts had drafted a resolution they wanted the CWCB to adopt Wednesday, which did not happen, as the CWCB declined to vote on it.

The resolution stated that any mandatory curtailment program would be developed on a “consensus basis” with the two districts at the table, and not just be a directive of the state.

However, Bennett Raley, the general counsel for the Northern Water Conservancy District, which provides water to nearly a million people in northeastern Colorado, said the state, as a sovereign entity, should not be constrained by consensus.

He also said that mandatory curtailment may well be necessary in Colorado.

“If the drought continues, there are two paths,” he told the CWCB board. “If there is an infinite source of money, then voluntary works. Great, we’re all happy. If the drought continues and there is not an infinite source of money, then the state will go to mandatory. The Supreme Court will ensure that, sooner or later, it’s not a question.”

Part of the fear of such a mandatory program is that hardly anyone, outside of perhaps the state engineer, knows what it would look like.

“Ultimately it’s a state decision, it’s a decision of the state engineer as to how water rights would be curtailed to meet the state’s obligations under the Colorado River Compact,” said Lochhead, when asked after the meeting how mandatory curtailment would work. “The short answer is, I don’t know. There are a lot of questions and viewpoints.”

Lochhead did say Denver Water is willing to “work with the state and with the West Slope to ensure that any curtailment doesn’t disproportionally impact any region of the state, whether it’s on the West Slope or the Front Range, and that essentially the same rules apply to everybody.”

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating with The Aspen Times and other newspapers in the Swift Communications group in Colorado on the coverage of rivers and water. The Times published this story on Thursday, September 20, 2018. The Glenwood Springs Post Independent also published it on Sept. 20, as did the Vail Daily.

“That’s an endemic part of the prior-appropriation system. There will be some years where you don’t have water” — Greg Hobbs

Photo of Lake Powell in extreme drought conditions by Andy Pernick, Bureau of Reclamation, via Flickr creative commons

From The Colorado Sun (John Ingold). Click through to read the whole Q&A, here’s an excerpt:

A Q&A with former Colorado Supreme Court Justice Gregory Hobbs, one of the state’s top water experts

Colorado’s system governing water use predates the state itself — the oldest water rights in Colorado date to the 1850s. And it is so closely linked to the state that, even when it is used elsewhere, it is often called the “Colorado Doctrine.”

But can it survive perhaps the greatest challenge in its history — a double-whammy of drought and population growth?

To answer that question, The Colorado Sun sat down with retired state Supreme Court Justice Gregory Hobbs, one of Colorado’s foremost minds on water law. Hobbs has 45 years of experience practicing water law in Colorado, and he continues to serve as a senior water judge and mediator.

First, some background: This spring, an influential water think tank, the Colorado River Research Group, released a report calling on water wonks to stop using the term “drought” to describe what is happening in the West. Drought implies something temporary, the report argued. But these changes show no sign of being temporary.

Greg and Bobbie Hobbs

“For that, perhaps the best available term is aridification, which describes a period of transition to an increasingly water scarce environment,” the group stated in its report.

Meanwhile, the Colorado State Demography Office projects that Colorado will add 3 million people by 2050, bringing the population above 8 million.

This is a worrying prospect for water in Colorado — party to nine interstate water compacts and home to thousands of individual water rights, each meticulously ordered in priority from oldest to youngest. And the strain may already be starting to show.

The fiscal year that ended in June 2017 — the most recent for which data is available — had the most claims and filings in state water court since the similarly parched year of 2012, according to a Colorado Sun analysis. Thornton and [Larimer County] are currently locked in a testy battle over how to move water that Thornton has the rights to out of the Poudre River, lifeblood of Fort Collins. And, according to reporting by Water Education Colorado, a New York hedge fund has spent millions buying up senior water rights on Colorado’s Western Slope — apparently betting on future shortages.

Does Hobbs think the Colorado Doctrine is built to withstand this kind of stress? The following Q&A has been condensed and edited for clarity, readability and brevity. At one point, Rob McCallum, a spokesman for the Colorado Judicial Branch who helped arrange the interview and sat in on it, also chimes in.

Hobbs talks about complicated water compacts and delivery systems as casually as discussing high school memories with an old friend, and it can be hard to keep up. So there are a few Colorado Water 101 explainers sprinkled in to help out.

Gregory Hobbs: The (Colorado River) Compact has really been tested in recent years with sustained drought. But it’s working.

Colorado Sun: At what point does it break?

GH: It doesn’t.

CS: It can’t?

GH: No. Not unless one of the states convinces the other six to renegotiate the compact; it’s perpetual. … Congress could try to override it. But I just don’t see it happening because Congress agreed to the compact.

So this is the essence of state-federal sovereignty, these nine interstate compacts that Colorado is a part of. The alternative is litigating in the U.S. Supreme Court for an allocation. It’s an amazing thing that in this 16-year drought, the target release of 8.25 (million acre-feet per year) out of (Lake) Powell has been met or exceeded.

Hopi tribe adjudication of Little #ColoradoRiver rights begins #COriver

Many Indian reservations are located in or near contentious river basins where demand for water outstrips supply. Map courtesy of the Bureau of Reclamation.

From Cronkite News (Bret Jasper):

The case that begins Tuesday in Maricopa County Superior Court involves the tribe’s past and present uses of water in the Little Colorado River Basin.

“The court is required to study the tribe, understand its history (and) culture, and make a determination what water is necessary for the tribe to have a permanent and livable homeland,” said Colin Campbell, an attorney representing the tribe.

A trial to look at future water uses will start in December 2019. A third trial examining ranch lands to the south of the Hopi Reservation will start in 2020 at the earliest.

The Hopi reservation is spread across three mesas in northeastern Arizona and circled by the much larger Navajo Nation.

These proceedings are part of the General Stream Adjudication process that’s been going for decades.

On a parallel track are possible settlement talks between the Hopi Tribe, the Navajo Nation and the federal government. Negotiations have started and stopped over the years. Campbell said that in the last month, the federal Indian Water Rights Office started exploring a new attempt at a settlement.

He said that having Jon Kyl back in the U.S. Senate may help, because any settlement would require federal legislative action. Kyl worked on Native American water rights settlements during his previous stint in the Senate…

“If you can imagine, literally, the #YampaRiver getting to the point that all the water has been taken out of it, is frightening and monumental. It never has happened” — Erin Light #drought

From Steamboat Today (Eleanor C. Hasenbeck):

Colorado Division of Water Resources Division Engineer Erin Light delayed a call on the river, which would curtail users according to the doctrine of prior appropriation. The delay comes as water managers wait to see if increased flows in the upper Yampa reach Dinosaur.

The Yampa River has never been placed on call.

“The last pumps on the river were sweeping the river,” Light said of her Tuesday visit to the lower Yampa. “If you can imagine, literally, the Yampa River getting to the point that all the water has been taken out of it, is frightening and monumental. It never has happened.”

The Colorado Division of Water Resources places a call on a river when water rights owners do not receive the amount of water they have a legal right to. When a call is in place, some water users are forced to reduce or stop their use in order to send enough water downstream to fulfill the older water right.

Though reservoir releases have boosted flows in the upper Yampa near Steamboat Springs and Craig, it’s not clear if or when that water reaches the state line. Water managers aren’t positive that the gauge measuring flows at Deerlodge Park in Dinosaur National Monument has been providing an accurate reading.

On Tuesday, flows at Deerlodge Park fell to about 35 cubic feet per second. On Wednesday, it was up to about 70 cfs. Historically, the river flows at 351 cfs on the same date.

“It’s very extremely dynamic what we’ve got going on here,” Light said. “Obviously the rains affect everything. As much as we love the rain, it makes it difficult to see what’s going on in the system and what effects it’s going to have, but the reservoir water that was in the river before is now being reduced.”

The Colorado Water Trust has been releasing reservoir water to increase flows for aquatic habitat and recreational use. Tri-State Generation and Transmission added a significant boost in flows with released reservoir water to maintain power generation at Craig Station. As weekend rain has increased flows, the organizations have slowed their releases.

“They only have so much contract water, and they have to manage and budget that contract water for times when it’s critical for their purpose,” Light said.

Last week, total releases from Stagecoach Reservoir jumped from 65 cfs to 125 cfs, Light said. This fell back to 70 cfs Wednesday. Releases from Elkhead Reservoir between Hayden and Craig were also reduced, from 75 cfs to 25 cfs.

“The reservoir water and the rainwater has hit Craig, and it has hit Maybell, but it’s just not getting to Deerlodge,” Light said. “I’m hoping it will.”

The first to be curtailed are those that do not have a water right or do not have a measuring device on their water intake. Then, users with the newest water rights are curtailed, followed by those with older rights…

Light said the fact that, if it occurs, this would be the first call on the Yampa, and that has made her and the water users on the river “very cautious.”

“We’re very hesitant about this scenario,” Light said. “Who wants to be the one that’s been tagged as being the first one to actually request administration by our office?”

Green River Basin

Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye met with @Interior Aug. 16, 2018, to discuss the framework for a settlement of Navajo water rights on the Little #ColoradoRiver #COriver

Grand Falls Little Colorado River, Spring of 2010.

From the Navajo Nation via the The Navajo Hopi Observer:

Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye met with Interior Department representatives Aug. 16, to discuss the framework for a settlement of Navajo water rights on the main-stem Colorado River and the Little Colorado River (LCR).

Also present at the meeting, held at the Office of the President and Vice President, were Navajo Nation Council Speaker LoRenzo Bates and various Council delegates. Navajo leaders met with the Secretary’s Indian Water Rights Office (SIWRO), an agency that operates under the Interior Department.

The Navajo Nation and the Hopi Tribe have been negotiating water rights for the Colorado River and LCR for decades without substantial resolution.

“We’re ready to move forward on this and we have been,” Begaye told SIWRO officials. “Establishing Navajo water rights to the main-stem and LCR is critical to the future of the Navajo Nation. I’ve been advocating for water allocations for homes, businesses and tribal operations, and for funding to build a pipeline to provide water to communities in the Western Agency.”

In June 2017, the Udall Foundation provided mediation between the Navajo Nation and the Hopi Tribe to work toward agreeable terms in a settlement. Although the tribes were able to gain certain consensus on some issues, they failed to come to an agreement.

Begaye said the negotiation process is now back at square one.

“When it comes to LCR, we go full circle. We’ve come to this impasse before,” he said. “We have a good relationship with Hopi, but this is an area we can’t seem to agree on. However, when it comes to water rights and how they affect the future of our people, this settlement is paramount.”

Begaye said the SIWRO, the Navajo Nation and the Hopi Tribe need to consider alternatives in reaching a settlement.

“Maybe there is another way of looking at this. Yet still, Navajo is ready to move on with a settlement,” Begaye said.